Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On the demise of Range Fuels

A post at GreenTechMedia titled Range Fuels Officially Dead: Another DOE Loan Bites Dust on the demise of Range Fuels drew two interesting comments:

#1. As to the "DOE loan" aspect, one person observed: The author is mixing facts here. The DOE only made a GRANT to Range Fuels, not a loan guarantee like the USDA did. This is an important distinction. And when this project did come to the loan guarantee group at the DOE, it was turned down because their technology did not appear to work, as is now evident.

IPBiz notes that the use of the word "only" may be questioned. As Biofuels Digest noted:

How much assistance did Range Fuels receive?

In total, the project received more than $160 million in investor financing, plus $162.25 million in government commitments. On the government tab, a $76 million DOE grant in 2007, the aforementioned loan guarantee, and a $6.25 state grant. Overall, the DOE released $43.6 million of the project funds, before suspending payments earlier this year and terminating its agreement with Range in August.

The loan guarantee of $64 million WAS LESS than the grant of $76 million.

#2. As to intellectual property/patents, another person stated: People (including Rapier c. 2006) have been saying their patents vs. public statements didn’t add up since they were called Kergy

The first patent issued to assignee Range Fuels is US 7,884,253

The abstract states: The invention provides methods and apparatus for selectively producing ethanol from syngas. As disclosed herein, syngas derived from cellulosic biomass (or other sources) can be catalytically converted into methanol, which in turn can be catalytically converted into acetic acid or acetates. Finally, the acetic acid or acetates can be reduced to ethanol according to several variations. In some embodiments, yields of ethanol from biomass can exceed 100 gallons per dry ton of biomass.

The patent issued February 8, 2011, with February 2011 being the month that Range Fuels announced closure of its plant in Georgia.

The GreenTechMedia post included the following text:

In the end, it's easy to slam both the DOE and USDA for continuing to prop up a company that consistently didn't perform as advertised.

In a post by Dana Blankenhorn on February 16, 2011 titled Government Loses Bet on Range Fuels , one has discussion of the closure of Range's Georgia plant and of the previous glowing reports:

Earlier this month, Range Fuels said it was closing its commercial facility and laying off an undisclosed number of employees.

The company raised an estimated $320 million over three years. Some came from investors, some from the federal government, some came from state and local governments around Soperton, Georgia, where the company made big claims for its coming plant. Biofuels Digest called Range the 14th hottest company in the space less than two years ago.


All along the way, of course, these failures are also backed by glowing media reports, everyone from Scientific-American to Discover Magazine to Money.

As to the glowing media reports, note two previous posts on IPBiz:

Technology Review speaks of 20,000 gal/(acre year) biofuel production

MIT Tech Rev on Khosla and biofuels


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